Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Magpie 68

Prosecutor Sawyer: “Your name, please?”
Witness: “My name is Edna Emice. I’m the only Emice this side of the Mississippi.”
Sawyer.: “Well, that’s quite a distinction. Now, let’s see. Where were you on the afternoon of March fourth last?”
Witness: “I was parked across the street from that poor murdered girl’s apartment.”
Sawyer.: “And how did you happen to be parked there?”
Witness: “Well, I saw Mr Hartley leaving her apartment. That was quite a shock, so I parked my car and watched.”
Sawyer.: “Now I want to remind you, Miss Emice, that you are under oath and your testimony is very important. You know Mr. Hartley well, don’t you?”
Witness: “I sure do.”
Sawyer.: “And you are certain that it was Mr. Hartley that you saw there?”
Witness: “Absolutely.”
Sawyer.: “Your witness.”
Miss Wylie: “You used to work for Mr. Hartley, didn’t you, Miss Emice? For how long?”
Witness: “For twelve years.”
Wylie: “And then you were unfortunately -- let go, weren’t you?”
Witness: “I was fired, if you want me to spell it out for you.”
Wylie: “And it was Mr. Hartley who fired you?”
Witness: “Yes.”
Wylie: “So you really don’t like Mr. Hartley very much, do you?”
Sawyer.: “Objection, your Honor. Approach the bench?”
Judge: “Yes.”
Sawyer.: “Judge, you can see what’s happening here. The defense is trying to suggest that Hartley canned Emice, she got sore and she decided to get back at him by inventing his presence at a crime scene. A wild story. They’ve made all this up.”
Wylie: “No, that’s just what happened, your Honor.”
Judge: “We’re going to need something more solid than a suggestion, Miss Wylie.”
Wylie: “That will be provided, during cross examination.”
Judge: “All right; let’s get on with it.”
Wylie: “I understand you have some interesting hobbies, Miss Emice?”
Sawyer.: “What!? I object! Relevance?”
Judge: “Good point. How are the witness’s hobbies relevant, Miss Wylie?”
Wylie: “That’s what I intend to show, Judge, if I’m permitted to continue.”
Judge: “Well, I guess so, contingent upon you providing the relevance. Objection overruled.”
Wylie: “And you have a special interest in astronomy, don’t you?”
Witness: “Yes. But I don’t like to talk about it much; people usually laugh.”
Wylie: “Why?”
Witness: “Well, you know—people think I’m just a sweet little old lady without any advanced degrees and such. It is believed that only the PhDs know about such things as astronomy.”
Wylie: “But you have special knowledge, don’t you, something the PhDs don’t have? Especially about the planet Jupiter?”
Sawyer.: “That’s it! That’s enough! I object. Soon we’ll be hearing about Miss Emice’s hobby of building small ships in bottles. There’s only one point at issue, Judge. Did Miss Emice see Mr. Hartley at the crime scene or not? I realize that Miss Wylie is new to the legal profession; in fact, I believe this is her first trial as a defense attorney, so we should be tolerant and understanding and all that. But there’s a limit.”
Judge: “Yes, you haven’t shown relevance, Miss Wylie. Sustained.”
Wylie: “But she went there!”
Judge: “Sit down, Miss Wylie! I have just ruled against you. You should have learned at least that much in law school. Er—she went where?”
Wylie: “She went to Jupiter!”
Judge: “She went to..? Continue with your cross examination.”

Wylie: “How did you make that trip to the planet Jupiter, Miss Emice? Was it on a flying saucer?”
Witness: “No, not a saucer. It was more like a spaceship.”
Wylie: “And what happened when you got to the planet Jupiter?”
Witness: “Well, there was a wonderful welcome; everybody was friendly. I got to see the King.”
Wylie: “Really? You saw the King of Jupiter, with your very own eyes? Could you see him clearly?”
Witness: “Oh, yes. Very clearly.”
Wylie: “As clearly as you saw Mr. Hartley at the crime scene?”
Witness: “Yes, exactly.”
Sawyer.: “Your Honor…”
Wylie: “Move for dismissal, your Honor.”
[Submitted also to Writer's Island, ABC Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings]

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

[For ABC Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings]
"S" is for "Shoes"

ANNOUNCER (VOICE OVER): The “Judge Phyllis” show, one of cable television’s most successful programs, is already under way as we join it...
GLINDA: We had been staying together.
JUDGE PHYLLIS: For how long?
GLINDA: Three weeks, like.
JUDGE: So, Alberto, you were in a relationship with this young woman?
ALFREDO: We were, your honor; I mean I was. We both were, actually.
JUDGE: You were in love?
ALFREDO: I most certainly was.
GLINDA: Yet he stole my shoes!
JUDGE: Yes, that’s what this all boils down to. Why would you steal a lady’s shoes, Alberto?
ALFREDO: Judge, I am a philosopher. You see, the heart only knows what the yearning of the soul is aware of. Men may have scoffed through the centuries, but the truth is always there, always waiting to be found. You see, I am not one of the sheep; I stand out from the rest of the flock. This is what I have learned as I have wandered down through life’s path.
JUDGE: Unfortunately the network gives me just one hour for this program; otherwise I could take twenty minutes or so to try to figure out what you just said. In the meantime, how about you, Glinda? Why do you think he stole your shoes?
GLINDA: That’s easy! He found a new girl friend! He met her at work.
JUDGE: Where do you work, Alberto?
ALFREDO: Your honor, usually I take what comes my way. As a philosopher I learned long ago not to try to change the world, though deep inside all of us is the awareness that it certainly needs change. But, "Plus ca change," as they say at the Sorbonne. So I emphasize that I am not offended that you don’t seem to know my name, though it’s written right there on that paper in front of you. My name is “Alfredo,” not “Alberto.” Just think of the sauce, Sauce Alfredo – though they usually use too much butter in its preparation – and you’ll get it right every time.
JUDGE: Whatever. Let’s get back to business. Where do you work?
GLINDA: Go on, tell her. He works in the town dump, Judge.

ALFREDO: Actually, it is officially the municipal waste disposal division. I am a separation supervisor. As people come in with various types of material they wish to dispose of, I separate this into three parts: metal, wood and cardboard.
JUDGE: And you met this new girl friend at the town dump?
ALFREDO: She drove in with some things she wanted to throw away so I showed her how I was there to separate them. She appreciated my expertise and life philosophy. We sort of got to know each other. Her name is Eunice.
GLINDA: It would be something like Eunice. Look at him, Judge. He’s not much to look at but believe it or not he has a kind of mysterious charm that appeals to women.
JUDGE: That definitely is mysterious. So you decided to go after this new girl and dump the old one – speaking of the town dump.
ALFREDO: I would certainly not put it that way. I saw immediately that I could be of help to this young woman. Her shoes, your honor. Her shoes were all wrong for her – boring, utilitarian, unattractive. But I knew where there was a pair that was just right for her, made for her you might say.

JUDGE: I’m beginning to figure this out. So you went back and stole Glinda’s shoes to give to your new girl friend?
ALFREDO: I stole nothing. They were given to me.
JUDGE: And you, Glinda, Good Witch of the North, you gave him the shoes? Why on earth would you do that?
GLINDA: Well, I thought he was a freak, a bit of a pervert. You know, a “footishist” or whatever they call it. He wanted the shoes so I figured it would do no harm for him to have a little fun with them. I certainly didn’t know he planned to give them to another woman.
JUDGE: That’s it. You’ve got to give them back, Alberto.
ALFREDO: I don’t have them. They now belong to Eunice.
GLINDA: But you stole them!
ALFREDO: Again, Your Honor, I stole nothing. They were given to me, which means, according to our ancient Anglo-Saxon legal code, that I could do with them as I wished.
JUDGE: I’m afraid he’s got something there.
GLINDA: But isn’t there some kind of law against inalienations of affections?
JUDGE: Not really. At least not with that pronunciation. You know, Glinda, there’s an opera song titled “La donna e mobile”: women are fickle. But so often it’s men who are the fickle ones. You’ll see. Alberto will stick with this current girl friend till he meets someone new – or maybe comes across an enticing new pair of ladies’ shoes. Then he’ll be gone like a shot.
Bailiff, next case!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Magpie 67

The Tournier banquet reminds us of one of Shakespeare’s most famous scenes: the banquet that Macbeth throws to celebrate his splendid new Kingship.
All the nobility and accompanying VIPs have been invited. Lady Macbeth, very experienced in such social occasions, is gracious to everyone.
There is actually an element of farce in this scene. It’s the kind of thing usually played for comedy: the elegant supper party where everything goes wrong. But the play’s audience is aware that the background of the scene is far from funny. The Macbeths have committed regicide; they have murdered Duncan, the previous King, though no one at the banquet is aware of this.
Macbeth’s second murder is to be of Banquo, a colleague, a friend. He doesn’t actually commit the murder; he has a hired killer do the deed. When he asks the murderer, “Banquo’s safe?” the man knows just what is meant. “Aye, my good lord, safe in a ditch he lies.”
And the banquet goes on, an event everyone is enjoying. Lady M. is in her element, charming all with her social poise.
But the pleasant occasion is wrecked beyond retrieval; Banquo shows up. He is, of course, a ghost, but Macbeth sees the real Banquo, sitting there in his chair. No one else sees him, of course.
The new King is visibly shaken, distraught; he cries out to his wife: “Can such things be?”
Lady M shifts into damage control mode. She tells the guests that the King is suffering a bit from an old illness, nothing to worry about.
Macbeth then cries out to the ghost: “Avaunt! And quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!”
Lady M. decides that it would perhaps be better if everyone just left. “Good night! Stand not upon the order of your going but go at once.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

(For Writer's Island, ABC Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings)
“R” is for “Rewrite”
I always enjoyed reading “Winnie the Pooh” to my kids; it gave me a chance to act out the parts.
They’ve grown past Winnie the Pooh age now and would no longer be interested, but when they were small they got a kick out of such readings. Eeyore was easy; you just dropped your voice an octave or so and added overtones of melancholia and weltschmerz. Pooh, humble and naïve, wasn’t difficult either. Piglet’s lines were delivered in a higher register as he was lively and full of spirit.
So I was interested indeed to read that A A Milne has published a new book of the series: “Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.”
Seemed a bit odd since A A Milne died a half-century or so ago.

Turns out that it’s a new book in the series all right, but it’s by someone else, David Benedictus. If you’ve got to do a rewrite of a classic, his is the way to do it. He has done a remarkable job of capturing the tone, the voice, the spirit of the original work; he doesn't try to jazz it up or put some sizzle into the style. And the new illustrator does the same. You’d swear the pictures in the new book are by Ernest Shepard, the original artist who turned Milne’s creatures into world-famous icons.
But there’s a question.

Does a great classic need a rewrite? Why? After all, the original stories are available to today’s youngest generation. True, today's kids get interested early on in all kinds of digital gadgets and gizmos; they probably get around to the real Pooh characters a little later than we did, but better late than never, ss the saying goes.
The only change in the new version is this: there’s a Pooh Corner newcomer. Lottie the Otter tries to fit in with the other critters.
They’ve done all kinds of rewrites over the years. “Peter Pan” was recreated in this way, and of course there was a kerfuffle when a rewrite of “Gone With the Wind” was published.
What’s your opinion? Should they have left the “Hundred-Acre Wood” alone, or is it a good idea to come up with a new, well-done rewrite of the stories?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Magpie 66

Polonius, the Lord Chancellor, can’t figure out just what’s the matter with the young prince.
He should be content; the country has a new king, a queen who is obviously very happy – all Denmark is celebrating.
But moody young Hamlet just sits with his nose in a book.
Polonius is determined to find out what is wrong. Shakespeare’s famous scene in Act Two beautifully sums up what happens when a stodgy, tedious old bureaucrat tries to deal with, or even understand, a young guy who is astute and sharp-witted.
The Lord Chancellor approaches the Prince.
Polonius: Do you know me, my lord?
Hamlet: Excellent well; you are a fishmonger.
Polonius: Not I, my lord.
Hamlet: Then I would you were so honest a man.
Polonius: What are you reading, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Polonius: What is the matter?
Hamlet: Between who?
Polonius: I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.
Hamlet: Slanders, sir. Though I most powerfully and potently believe that you could grow as old as I am, if like a crab you could go backward.
Polonius: My lord, I will take my leave of you.
Hamlet: You could not take from me anything I would not more willingly part with – except my life, except my life, except my life.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

(For Writer's Island, ABC Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings)
“Q” is for “Queen.”

As you may have heard, William Shakespeare was the top dog in the playwright trade.
And Elizabeth I was unsurpassed in the queen business.
So here’s something interesting.
Both Will and Liz lived in the same town, at the same time, and they knew each other. Thus a natural question would be, what kind of relationship did they have?
The answer appears to be, not much.
Queen Elizabeth was one of the greatest, and most powerful, sovereigns in the history of England.

Will Shakespeare, even though he may have been a genius, was a commoner. Sovereigns did not hang out with commoners.
Unlike today? :-)
But the Queen enjoyed the playwright’s plays and we can almost say that, without her, there would have been no Shakespeare.
It’s difficult for us today to understand the position of the theatre and theatre folk at that time. As you may know, in the seventeenth century a great many people let superstition govern their lives: there was a general belief in such things as witches, ghosts and omens. Another general belief on the part of many was that there was something "wrong" with the very idea of players and playhouses. Those in authority would have closed the theatres, torn them down, and forbidden anything except works of a religious nature - which was pretty well all that English drama had consisted of before the Shakespearean era.
There would have been no point in Will S. trying to fight local authorities; he would have had to surrender.
But they had a problem: Elizabeth.
She enjoyed plays as much as she loved music and dancing (she loved to dance). Whenever those in power tried to close down theatres, they were reminded that such an action would make the Queen unhappy. And they had learned early on that making the Queen unhappy was to be avoided, to say the least.

So William Shakespeare and his theatrical company flourished. They often performed before her at court. She so loved the character Falstaff in “Henry IV” that she let it be known to the playwright that she’d like to see him in another play. So Will S. sat down and speedily turned out “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” loading it with Falstaff and Falstaffian humor.
Elizabeth was gifted in a number of areas, but her knowledge of languages was amazing. She spoke English and Latin with equal fluency, Italian almost as well, and had a fair knowledge of French, Spanish and Greek. Since Latin was the language of diplomacy at that time, she could converse fluently with diplomats visiting England from just about anywhere, even if they spoke no English.
There’s a wonderful story – I’d like to think it’s true – that the Queen had invited the Russian ambassador and his entourage at court to see a Shakespeare play. As the actors performed, she kept up a running translation, in Latin, of what was going on.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Magpie 65

Charles Baudelaire:
“To be a great man and a saint
That is the one important thing.”
(“Avant tout, être un grand homme et un saint -- pour soi-même.”)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

[For Writer's Island, ABC Wednesday and Sunday Scribblings]
The famous song is "April in Paris," but when I think of the City of Light I think of the month of May a few decades ago, when I was making a film in France.
It was hard, arduous, tough work, traveling first-class (paid for by the films' budgets), eating almost every day at Michelin 3-star restaurants, staying in the best Paris hotels; I don't know how I lived through it. :-)
The documentary had to do with the American expatriates; it was a famous time back in the 1920s when an entire season -- (a number of seasons, actually) -- was given over to Yankee writers making the trip to Paris. Since the franc was weak and the dollar was strong, it was the ideal spot for any American artist.
One of the places I wanted in the film was Gertrude Stein’s apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus.
Her home had been a place of pilgrimage for so many young writers. You could make the case – oh, you’d get arguments – but you could make the case that this is where modern American literature began, because Gertrude Stein attracted the greatest writers of that time: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, among others.
They had told me that I probably couldn’t get in to the apartment; it wasn’t open to the public. But I was able to get a few strings pulled at the French Government Tourist Office and I was ultimately allowed entrance into the famous home of Gertrude Stein.

As I walked about the place I remembered seeing pictures of it as it had once been when, much earlier, the walls were covered with avant-garde paintings as Stein discussed art with guys most people then had never heard of, young chaps named Picasso, Braque and Matisse.
It was said of Gertrude in the early years: “She knew where art was going.”
What attracted the American writers? Well, she was a sort of literary guru. As a writer, she was often difficult to understand – she certainly wasn’t much as an author of best-sellers – but her gift was for analysis and criticism; to many her judgment in literature was infallible.
When he met Stein, young Ernest Hemingway realized he had found a guide, even a tutor, and he took what she had to say very seriously. He thought so much of her he asked her to be the godmother of his child.
In “The American Tradition in Literature,” the editors state: “Hemingway created a revolution in language.” I believe the revolution was at least partially created by someone else. Long before she met Ernest H., Gertrude Stein wrote: “I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again.” To the young Hemingway, she pointed out this phenomenon, emphasizing as well the importance of writing in a new way, simply and directly, and of developing a forceful prose style with few adverbs or adjectives.
Ernest listened and learned; what he learned became the famous Hemingway style that influenced the narrative and dialogue of a couple of generations of novelists.
When Ernest, age 22, came to that apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus, he would sit by the fire as Gertrude spoke to him about writing. He paid her a great compliment: “Writing used to be easy before I met you.”

Years later, when he became Papa Hemingway and very successful, when he became a
legend in his own lifetime, he would downplay Stein’s influence on his writing. But decades earlier he had felt differently: “Ezra (Pound) was right half the time,” he wrote, “and when he was wrong you were never in any doubt of it. Gertrude was always right.”
When you shot a film in those days, a small crowd would always gather. Among the people watching while I worked in the courtyard of Stein’s apartment building was an elderly lady who seemed to be very interested in all that was going on. I spoke to her and was surprised to learn that she had been Gertrude Stein’s concierge, going all the way back to the old days. This was quite a shock.
I was actually speaking with someone who had known them all as young people – Picasso, Braque, Matisse, as well as the American expats Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and the rest. She assured me that they had not only been friends of Miss Stein, but her friends too. I believed her.
The documentary that resulted from all this, “One Man’s Paris,” was distributed by Universal-International throughout the country after opening at the Palace on Broadway in Manhattan. Making it was an unforgettable experience for me.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Magpie 64

As I checked out this week’s Magpie prompt, I wondered how many others would be reminded of the Bertolt Brecht play, “Mother Courage.”
Throughout human history there have been wars, and there have always been innocent victims. Victims who may never have believed in fighting in the first place, but were nonetheless caught up in it. Brecht’s play is a powerful reminder of the thousands of mothers with children who have, over the centuries, suffered due to violent human conflict.
Quite a number of highly qualified scholars claim that “Mother Courage” was the best play of the last century. But as I see it, there’s a problem…

Bertolt Brecht was deeply schooled in Marxism and Soviet aesthetic theory. He received the “Stalin Peace Prize” in 1954. His view of life was simple: the problem was capitalism. Capitalism wasn’t just evil; it was the evil. Everything bad, including war, stemmed from that and from that alone. That is the main theme of Brecht’s play.

Today, a half-century or so later, this seems woefully simplistic. We now know that wars can be caused by a half-dozen other reasons in addition to the profit motive: ideologies, religions, expansionism, etc. So I think this week’s Magpie prompt is summed up beautifully by the title “Mother Courage,” but not many of us today would be able to go along with Brecht in his belief that peace would ensue if the world just adopted Stalin’s Soviet system.
Today it’s possible to present this play so that the audience will leave the theater with the impression that an indefatigable woman has endured the worst and has still come through -- her aim of "living through the war" has been achieved.
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